Time to write. Good!
I am thrilled about this subject: Steve Lewitt interviews Yuval Noah Harari in the People I Mostly Admire podcast.
Despite the buzz of Sapiens some years ago, I have to confess that I could not finish it. Unfortunately, I have a bias toward The selfish gene by Richard Dawkins, and I gave no chance to the alternative insights of this Jewish Historian that threaten to erode my knowledge pillars. Indeed, I was so narrow-minded that I questioned what a historian might know about human evolution.
Eventually, I have come to terms with Harari and a world that is not white or black but multicolor, with many perspectives, either science or humanities, merging to enlighten us. So, here I am to recount the key messages conveyed in the interview that, in my opinion, stuck out.
The dialogue started with the host and guest discussing the book creation process. A story about history written in Hebrew birthed out of a public speaking insecurity, some lecture notes, the book Guns, gems, and Steel by Jared Diamond, and low expectations that evolved into a blockbuster, with millions of copies translated to tenths of languages sold worldwide. I am by all means unmistaken if I name Sapiens as one of the top ten most-read books of the 21st century.
But why is that? What makes this book so enthralling?
On the one hand, Harari is one of the best storytellers I have read. In his aim to convey a sound tale, he writes about the obvious, with facts so evident for pundits to mention but extraordinary for many otherwise. For example – Money is the most successful story of humanity. A tale believed by most but without further support than the trust between the characters of such narrative.
The public acclaim is not, however, an easy feat. Harari’s stories have no protagonist and are factual-based, both harbingers of boredom and early abandonment for many. Indeed, there is not a person at the center, but many heroes, ourselves, following the author on a trip through history to seek answers about us and what it means to be human.
Likewise, the writer starts every story with a conclusion and develops backward. The reader does not run to uncover the what but the why and who. A kind of whodunit mystery unraveled through questions and engaging anecdotes.
Bold, right? Of course, the initial goal of friends and family within the small Hebrew academic population controlled scope made the writer nonchalant about what he said.
It leads us to the other hand topic. Harari has no qualms about making outrageous statements, out of context, without criticism or judgment. And there are lots of those because he has something to say about almost anything, as we learn during the talk.
For instance: Human life has no meaning. The author believes that people like stories, whereas the universe, devoid of drama, goes on undeterred by the emotions we suffer. Why then feel miserable because we are not part of something bigger?
Or, The agricultural revolution was history’s biggest fraud if we analyze the impact on the lives of farmers.
Nevertheless, this is a tiny brushstroke of a book where we understand that history is not deterministic, and decisions by men have more impact on our societies than natural catastrophes such as the Spanish flu or maybe COVID’19.
Undoubtedly, Sapiens is a must-read book, if only to open your mind to new ideas with the help of the great thinker Yuval Noah Harari.
All the same, The selfish gene is still one of my bedside books and one of the few paper editions I saved when I digitized my library.